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If somebody picked up a sword, could they expect to use it in bona fide combat?
Not without training. Not without a comprehensive understanding of the weapon, when, how and why to employ it. To seek to fight with a weapon you do not even understand is suicide.
People fail to see that taijiquan is just like a sword. You cannot just pick it up and use it in combat. First, you must understand the weapon. Then, you must become the weapon.
Advanced martial art
It is not enough to practice form and pushing hands. Real understanding is necessary. Taijiquan is an advanced martial arts system.
A student must gain an in-depth grasp of the principles underpinning the art, and learn how to use them effectively.
What makes taijiquan 'taijiquan'?
Many different exercise systems and martial arts offer similar benefits to taijiquan. Most exercise methods are arguably good for fitness, and most martial arts aim to teach combat.
So what makes taijiquan unique?
Taijiquan is concerned with the how. It is process-oriented; paying attention to the way in which you do things rather than just the result.
Taijiquan requires the student to perform every movement in a comfortable, relaxed manner, whilst maintaining optimal structural alignment relative to the opponent.
At no time should your use of strength exceed 4 ounces of pressure, nor should you allow more than 4 ounces to be placed upon you.
Force is never used against force. Every action should be a whole-body movement rather than independent limb action.
There are no conventional punches or kicks; the body employs a whipping action to throw the limb out when striking.
Taijiquan is circular in movement and application - it must follow the way of nature, the path of least resistance.
In addition to the basic elements, there are more detailed components that need to be incorporated into your training.
These allow a more extensive mechanism for expression and are essential for the pragmatic application of the art.
Some people try to employ karate or wing chun methodology in their taijiquan. This simply does not work. At best, they create a hybrid - at worst, they ruin both systems.
Each to their own
Wing chun should be trained as wing chun, and karate as karate - each has its own unique quality.
Taijiquan is the same; you cannot apply the movements as though it was karate. e.g. the form is a vessel for neigong. Karate is not.
Taijiquan uses the body in a more complete fashion than other systems, requiring lesser strength to greater effect. The other arts are not renowned for health.
If you simply trained qigong, form, pushing hands and a few self defence 'techniques' the art will not work in actual combat.
Much is missing:
Theory & principles
Brain work (meditation, awareness, metacognition)
Neigong (whole-body strength)
Jing (whole-body power)
Chin na (seizing)
Shuai jiao (take downs)
These skills contain
physical and mental components; and the latter are often neglected by
It is not enough to practice the skills. You must understand the art. For example chin na applications can be trained with a cooperative practice partner and then with an uncooperative partner.
But will they work in actual combat? No.
Practicing applications is not enough. This is why martial artists sometimes get beaten up in the street by untrained assailants. What is missing?
Using the sword
In taijiquan the answer is quite straightforward: the ability to skilfully employ the principles. The principles serve to bridge the gap between application practice and actual usage.
Chin na application answer
In the chin na application example the answer is yielding, peng, stickiness, 4 ounces. Unless you can use these in a varied, combined, diverse fashion, you cannot apply chin na applications in combat.
You must know how to wield the sword; functionally, pragmatically and effectively.
The gaps in a student's knowledge actively retard progress. They cannot apply taijiquan in a taijiquan manner. At best, it will look like karate or judo. The exponent may as well learn judo.
A lazy student waits to be told the answers. The problem is this: what can they do with answers they don't even understand?
The knowledge may be in their hands but they don't know what to do with it. Therein lies the dilemma.
Individual study, practice and research will produce knowledge, understanding and answers. And further questions of course...
Trying to do taijiquan without studying the classics is like trying to practice Law without reading any legal books.
Wielding a real sword
The amateur swordsman cuts himself. Taijiquan employed by an amateur deserves all the laughter it receives. Conviction and integrity are paramount.
These are not easily attained.
The only way to gain the necessary 'know how' is to practice daily and study thoroughly. There are no shortcuts, no cheats, no quick fixes.
You must practice the movements, read the books, think deeply about the art and move continually towards realistic combat skill.
A student who lacks the initiative and motivation to do this should study tai chi for health instead.
symbol is the interlocking, melting together of the flow of
movement within a circle.
(Chungliang Al Huang)
18 June 2003
Last updated 17 September 2019